Think Football and Wine Don't Mix? Think Again

From www.chicagotribune.com by Michael Austin
Football and wine? You bet!
Football and Wine
E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

A few weeks ago, after a National Football League playoff game, a New Orleans Saints defensive lineman sent a bottle of wine to the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. It was a taunt, a tease — a troll, in the vernacular of the moment. The Saints had beaten the Panthers for the third time this season, so to mark the milestone and to continue an existing correspondence of jabs between them, the victorious lineman sent the losing quarterback a bottle of wine from the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County.

It wasn’t just any bottle. It was a 2013 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon — from the renowned Jordan Winery in Healdsburg — and it wasn’t just any renowned winery that the lineman picked. He picked Jordan because his name is Cameron Jordan. He and the winery have no connection, except that they share a name. That’s fun. That’s good clean competitive spirit. That’s a nice gift, too — and although the quarterback, Cam Newton, lost those games, he did gain something of value.

From one Cameron to another, the gesture basically said, “Here are three losses and a nice bottle of wine for you.” It was a cool little news item to read — that an NFL bruiser, listed at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 287 pounds on the Saints’ website, was taunting an opposing player with a bottle that would pair nicely with herb-crusted lamb, haricots verts and potatoes dauphine.

When I heard the news, I started thinking about good old Art Donovan, the legendary defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts. He played in the 1950s and sometimes didn’t even wear a face mask on his helmet. He was born in the Bronx, the son of a boxing referee, and he earned a football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame but played there for only one season before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and fighting in World War II, notably the Battle of Iwo Jima. He died in 2013, and although he was an undisputed tough guy, he spent his post-playing days cracking jokes on late-night talk shows, among other lighthearted pursuits.

Sending a bottle of wine in Donovan’s day would have been the equivalent of sending a dozen roses or a basket full of lollipops. Not just in Donovan’s day — for decades after his day too. I can’t imagine that Dan Hampton or Richard Dent of the 1985 Bears (Super Bowl XX champs, my friends) sent a bottle of wine to the Green Bay quarterback after crushing the Packers twice that season. Even the defensive linemen of the ’90s or early 2000s probably didn’t have wine on the brain.

But a guy born in 1989, like Cameron Jordan? Yeah, wine is a part of his life — whether he has NFL jingle in his pocket or not. It’s different now than it was for those older guys. Jordan sent something usable, knowing it was usable, to his fallen nemesis. Like sending a box of good golf balls with a note that says, “Glad you’ll be able to get an early start on the off-season.” This is just one more high-profile example of how wine is seeping into our normal, daily lives — the lives of those of us who don’t live in or near the wine regions of California, Washington, Oregon or a handful of others.

The trolling gift gives steam to the idea that wine is not exclusive or rarified — or twee, as it would have been in prior NFL eras — and should not be intimidating. The thing about most people under 30 is they didn’t grow up with images of wine being sophisticated and prim. Those ideas are still alive in the wine world — in some wine shops and restaurants — but they now share space with much more egalitarian narratives.

Back when the guys on the ’85 Bears were a few years out college, the wine narrative leaned toward elitism. Now there are more voices telling different stories, and thankfully people like Jordan and so many others have been exposed to them. The Jordan cabernet sauvignon that Cameron Jordan chose costs about 50 bucks — not cheap but also not unattainable. Jordan, the lineman, could have sent Newton a pair of Jordan gym shoes, with Michael Jordan’s spread eagle flying logo on them. But the string of jabs between Jordan and Newton led to cabernet sauvignon, and by golly, that says a lot about wine in 2018.

Cam Newton, Carolina’s quarterback, won’t soon (or ever) forget the taunt from his fellow “Cam.” And if Newton can’t swallow his pride enough to drink the bottle anytime soon, it’s OK. The winery says the wine will continue to improve in the bottle through 2032, when both Cams’ playing days will be over.

Now. As for next season, if the Panthers end up beating the Saints and Newton decides to send a taunt of his own, allow me to suggest a nice bottle of 2014 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay from Napa Valley.

Michael Austin is a freelance writer.

food@chicagotribune.com

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